SUNY Ulster moves towards removing economic barrier to entry

No one testified at the public hearing on the $24-million 2017-2018 SUNY Ulster budget in Stone Ridge late Monday afternoon. County legislature chairman Ken Ronk quickly closed the session. Sixteen of the 23 county legislators were in attendance.

College president Alan Roberts explained the main changes in the budget, which he has previously described as “essentially flat.” The budget represents a six-tenths of one percent decrease from the previous year’s document.

Roberts is projecting an unchanged enrollment in the next school year. Tuition will increase $75 per semester for full-time enrollees and $5 per credit for part-timers, bringing full-time tuition to $4480 and $170 per credit respectively.

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The new operating budget projects $8.3 million in revenue income from student tuition, $5.8 million from  state aid, $6.4 million from the county government, $800,000 in chargebacks for local students attending out-of-county community colleges, and $2.8 million in other revenues. On the expense side, salaries, wages and benefits account for more than three-quarters of total operating expenses. The remainder goes for contractual services, supplies and equipment.

Ulster County’s five-year capital plan projects an additional $12.4 million in spending at SUNY Ulster.

Roberts made it clear in his presentation prior to the budget hearing that an important part of his job was to reverse the pattern of a slow decrease in enrollment over the past few years. He outlined a series of initiatives the community college was taking or considering.

One that has received attention is the preliminary agreement to establish a satellite facility at the former Milton elementary school in Marlborough. Roberts listed various other initiatives and partnerships, plus new programs and resource alignments — including raising money to offer a free community college education to 200 high schoolers who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

The full legislature is expected to ratify the SUNY Ulster budget at its monthly meeting in Kingston Tuesday, June 20.

It was serendipity that Monday, June 12, was also the first day for applications to the state Excelsior Scholarship program, which when combined with other aid programs will provide free tuition to many income-eligible students (family income of up to $100,000 annually this year and $125,000 in 2019) at two- and four-year SUNY colleges. There are certain other conditions.

According to press reports, 3200 applications were submitted to the state Higher Education Services Corporation by mid-afternoon of the first day. The deadline for applications is July 21.

A state press release says 92,333 Hudson Valley families include college-age students. Of these, 63 percent would eventually be eligible for Excelsior Scholarships.

The new state program is likely to have transformative effects on local SUNY budgets, SUNY Ulster president Roberts acknowledged in his presentation. In a video the college produced, Rondout Valley students and their parents expressed their gratitude, relief and happiness about their eligibility for a free college education under Roberts’ new program. That positive outcome will only be multiplied under Excelsior Scholarship rules.

To my mind, this recent sensitivity to the plight of low-income families is a day late and a dollar short. The knowledge economy needs as many well-educated human beings as it can produce. Consigning able minds to limited jobs and incomes on the basis of their ability to pay for their post-secondary education constitutes a cruel punishment…It makes no sense whatsoever, either on the basis of equity or workforce investment.

A century ago, Ulster County was a land of one-room schoolhouses, with only a minority of students making the trek to secondary schooling. Over time, completing high school became an expectation for most youngsters. Now, children finishing college has become the expectation for more families. A community college degree has become the bare minimum for economic advancement.

How can America, so proud of its system of free public education through secondary school for all, continue a means test in regard to what are essentially the thirteenth and fourteenth grades?

The answer is: It can’t. And it shouldn’t.

How to apply

The New York State Excelsior Scholarship program begins in the fall of 2017 and will be phased in over three years.

In order to apply, students must:

  • Be residents of New York State
  • Attend a SUNY or CUNY two- or four-year degree program
  • Take 30 credits per calendar year (including January and Summer sessions)
  • Plan to live and work in New York following graduation for the length of time they participate in the scholarship program.

Applications are being accepted through July 21 at www.ny.gov/programs/tuition-free-degree-program-excelsior-scholarship.

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